Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Gender disparity in engineering: What about other entrance exams?

BITS-Pilani: Dilip says that when BITS-Pilani introduced entrance exams in 2004, women's enrollment dropped precipitously. He adds, "This drop is of serious concern to BITS authorities, who I believe are examining (among other things) if the test itself has or encourages gender bias." [Dilip also brought it up in a comment to this post last year!] On Vivek's blog, Tobacconist says something similar about his college, which appears to be BITS-Pilani.

NITs: At NIT-C, this comment indicates that women/men ratio was less than 10 percent even in computer science. I got similar figures for NIT-K (Suratkal) from one of our students, who's from there. Remember, computer science and electronics engineering are the fields in which women form over 30 percent of the students. So, these numbers for NIT-C and NIT-K are pretty low.

Here's a hypothesis that's worth testing: if it turns out that women's underrepresentation exists in top colleges (irrespective of whether they are IITs, NITs or university engineering colleges), it would imply that all "multiple-choice" based entrance exams (not just the JEE) do a good job of keeping women out of the top ranks.

Why am I interested in testing this hypothesis? Because I read this post by Tipsy Toes, and this comment by N!, discussing some very interesting findings from psychological and psycho-legal studies of how men and women handle tests.

Here's a relevant part from Tipsy Toes' post:

... [William C.] Kidder actually identifies four sources of exam bias: stereotype threat, speededness and differential guessing, the gendered effects of subject matter selection and biased questions.

Isn’t it time we examine our entrance exams in relation to these, and figure out whether they’re biased? As Vivek pointed out very effectively, we have ‘missing women’ in science, and there are many many many social biases that have led to this. But that is no reason to assume that our exam papers themselves are not tainted by these biases. [...]

And, here is a short quote from the comment by N!:

To the extent that the JEE is the most difficult math exam and to the extent that it tests new material, to the extent that the communication might be that the JEE currently might be more about "innate ability" rather than "hard work" and to the extent that women might be less confident abotu their chances of success even at the same math performance as men, any test like the JEE might be biased.

Before proceeding further with this line of inquiry, we need more data on computer science and electronics engineering programs in NITs (programs of choice for top rankers in AIEEE), and similar programs in top colleges in state universities (which, again, are the programs of choice for top rankers in state-level entrance exams). Any pointers to sources of data will be greatly appreciated.

I'll offer the usual reward: a drink when you are in Bangalore next!


  1. Anonymous said...

    Thanks Abi. I don't have much to add except to say that there is a LOT about stereotyping and stereotyping threats that is beyond "common knowledge". Some of the effects demonstrated in the psychological literature are quite subtle and yet may account for quite a bit of the differences between different groups performances. This is true especially in gender-deviant roles (for example, mathematics for women). This might also explain why women don't do as badly on the medical entrance tests, although they are as difficult.

    Its often hard for someone to believe that a math/multiple choice test can be "biased" because there are clearly "right" and 'wrong" answers and no information about the individual is given. To this extent yes, there is no bias in correction. What we might miss, however, is the baggage (anxiety for example) that individuals bring to the test as a result of their social conditions that then helps or hinders their performance and the test conditions that might exacerbate this anxiety.



  2. Pratik Ray said...

    Now that the IIT JEE is in 2 parts, with a screening (essentially multiple choice type) and the mains (bigger problems), it would be interesting to see the percentage of women who clear the screening test and the percentage who clear the mains.

  3. ada-paavi!!!! said...

    i have just two questions,

    you are analysing % of women in top engineering colleges, but what i think matters is out of the total number of women writing how many get in.

    if that figure is close to the mean, then it is worthwhile to ponder on the question whether women just inherently are not fond of engineering. for that stats of total engineering enrolment would be required.

    if this turns out to be close to the mean, then its useful to see if hostel has a role. are parents less willing to send their girls to hostels? (I understand most top engineering colleges its convenient to stay in hostels on campus).

  4. Pratik Ray said...

    By the way, there is another exam which might be worth giving a thought. Namely, the ISI entrance exam. Thats not as popular as the IIT JEE, but still about 20-25000 students take it all over the country. Considering a total of only 150-175 or so candidates are interviewed and only 45-50 candidates or so make it finally, the acceptance rate is actually less than the IITs. (these were the sort of numbers in 2000)

    The ISI test is actually three stage: a MCQ part (30 math questions), followed by a test having 10 math problems or so. Candidates who clear both are called for an interview which lasts for about an hour or so.

    The problems are similar to those in state level math Olympiads, and I assume that not much (if any) coaching is available for this entrance exam. But then, I did my schooling from a fairly small town, and cant claim to have very good idea of coaching that goes on in bigger cities.

    In my experience, the problems arent that tough (as the JEE) - I reckon I scored around 24-25/30 in MCQ and about 60-65% in the problems. So, such an exam, being a bit easier than IIT JEE, would probably show up lesser effect of coaching.

    Anyway, my point is such an exam would be relatively free from some of the *biases*, (real or imaginary) and might be worth analyzing.

  5. Pratik Ray said...

    @ ada-paavi!!
    If I remember correctly, somewhere in this blog I did read that about 20% of the IIT-JEE takers are women, while only 6-7% are accepted. Even assuming 10% women make it, the percentage of men clearing the JEE (calculated from the number of men writing the exam) would still be more than double the figure for women.

    That reduces the skew from the apparent 90:10 to about 70:30. But the skew still stays.

  6. Anonymous said...

    at nit,allahabad, CS and electronics engg depts had 6 and 9 girls out of a total class strength of 60. this number stayed roughly the same through the 4 years i was there. an interesting natural experiment would be comparing the % of girls before and after AIEEE coming from states which previously didn't have a MCQ type paper. this would remove the fixed effects of college reputation.

  7. Rahul said...

    IT-BHU, electronics engg..
    for the jee 2003 batch... 6
    for the jee 2004 batch... 4
    for the jee 2005 batch... 2
    Total number of students in the ball park of 50 for each of the batches.
    I'm a third year student.

  8. Doctor Bruno said...

    //if it turns out that women's underrepresentation exists in top colleges (irrespective of whether they are IITs, NITs or university engineering colleges), it would imply that all "multiple-choice" based entrance exams (not just the JEE) do a good job of keeping women out of the top ranks//

    Yes, Professor... This is what I have been telling ALL THESE DAYS......

    For More Please see


  9. Anonymous said...

    Why Obsession with Engineering?
    BITS Pilani Girls Conquer Glory Australia to America: The branches studied by the girls include not only various Engineering but also MSc Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Economics, Mathematics, Physics as well as B Pharm, MSc (Tech) Information Systems, Engineering Technology etc. Where on earth could they be from?

    Punita Pandey Netcustomer, Vandana Malaiya Eximsoft, Sangeeta Patni Extensio Software, Gayathri Viswanathan Maarga Systems, Chandralekha Bhaskar Power Ltd, Anuradha Parthasarathy Nexus Search Consultants, Anita Sakuru Kenpeople, MTV Madness fame Chandni Saigal D'Essence Consulting, Rashmi Datt Dialog who conducts Personality workshops at IIT Kanpur and many more have made their mark in entrepreneurship.

    Srividhya Rajesh Sundaram Mutual Fund, Akhila Krishnakumar SCT Software, Renu Muralidharan Datamatics, Yashodhara Mishra IPAC, Anu Khendry Satyam, Mitra Priya CSLTECH, Prachi Garg VSNL, Anupama Narayanan Bank of America, Anita Gupta Flextronics, Revathi Advaithi Honeywell, Padma Reddy Webmethods, Swati Satpathy Unilever, Mythreyee Ganapathy Microsoft Research, Prasanna Krishnan who was named by Microsoft as one of 15 Fast Track Employees with potential to be future company leaders, Indira Raman Colgate, Sushma Vasudevan Boston Consulting Group and many more have made their mark in corporate leadership in diverse organizations.

    Jyothi Mathur Purdue University, Reena Aggarwal Visiting Professor Sloan School of Management, Ritu Lohtia Georgia State University, Lata Narayanan Concordia University, Neelam Gupta University of Arizona, Swarnalatha Ashok National University of Singapore, Padmini Srinivasan University of Iowa, Monica Valluri University of Chicago, Soumya Krishnamoorthy and Ranjani Vardan University of Maryland, Kavitha Venkatesan Harvard Medical School, Shilpa Sambashivan Amyloid Research University of California Los Angeles, Garima Kochhar Dell HPCC Servers, and many more have made their mark in teaching and research across the globe.

    If you thought that the girls were not good at Creative Arts, then you have not heard of film stars Anu Hassan and Divya Kaniha, Padmini Chettur Choreographer, Shanti Sharma one of the finest classical music vocalists in India Today, and Anuradha Gupta who has authored three books which include Memoirs of Army Days.

    Kalpana Nayak Commandent of first all women battalion of Tamil Nadu Police, Dr Jasveen Dhillon Jairath Capnet South Asia, Smita American India Foundation, Chandra Anil Coordinator AID, Anitha Balasubramanian Learning Network, Praba Saffron Trade, Minakshi Krishnan Marathon Runner for noble causes, Aditi Pany Tarahatt, Durga Mitra Prabhu who was selected to perform at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games and many more girls have all made their mark in Community and Public Service.

    Educational Empowerment alone can transform women into powerful agents of social change.

    If you are a school final girl aspiring to find your name a few years from now in the list of achievers of BITS Pilani, its time you get set for BITSAT the unique online Admission Test which just needs the candidate to be a good student and everyone knows that girls have been outperforming boys in the board examinations.

  10. Tipsy Toes said...

    Thanks, Abi! I just saw this, and to add my two bits, the Law Schools seem to have a healthier (not always healthy, just healthi*er*) ratio of women to men.

    On an average, I'd say more than thirty percent of the students are women, both at NLS and NALSAR. And both entrance exams have (i) English (ii) Logic and (iii) essay components. Food for thought?

  11. Thiruvikraman said...

    I don't know why the bloggers on this page missed out the obvious reason for the paucity of girls in Engg insts. and got bogged down (or blogged down?) in irrelevant theories. The fact is that most students clear competetitive exams like IIT-JEE, BITSAT, AIEEE etc after substantial coaching and the number of girls enrolling for coaching is low (now somebody should look at that figure). So thats it. It is as simple as that! Of course there could be other reasons. But this is the dominant one.